Outwit 7 Hidden Energy Sappers

A boring job and a night light are just two reasons why you're dragging.

Here's how to easily restore your spark.

YOU KNOW THAT IF YOU stay up late into the night, you'll feel exhausted at work the next day. But are you aware that regularly sleeping in on weekends — even if you get a full eight hours — can also leave you tired? Natural Health unearthed seven surprising but common reasons for fatigue and found fast, expert-recommended ways to overcome them.


as it may seem. Shifting your bedtime or waking time by two hours or more upsets your circadian rhythms, crucial regulators of your sleep cycle, says Amy Wolfson, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and author of The Woman's Book of Sleep (New Harbinger Publications, 2001). As a result, you may have trouble falling asleep Sunday night, wake up tired Monday morning, and feel sluggish for days afterward, Wolfson says.

THE SOLUTION: Go to bed and get up within 60 minutes of the same time every day, Wolfson says. If your sleep times are normally erratic, this should improve your energy within a week.

At first, getting up early on weekends may make you feel sleepy in the afternoon. If this occurs, nap for 30 minutes. A nap instantly boosts your energy, and if you wake up from your nap at least three hours before your bedtime you won't disrupt your nighttime sleep, says Scott Campbell, Ph.D., director of the Chronobiology Lab at Cornell Medical School in White Plains, N.Y.

ENERGY SAPPER #2 You Have Poor Posture
SLOUCHING TIRES YOUR BODY. IT MAKES you constantly use your muscles rather than your skeleton to hold you up, says Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., a holistic physician in City Island, N.Y.

THE SOLUTION: To instantly restore your pep, imagine a string pulling you up from the top of your head and aligning your vertebrae. Relax your shoulders, chest, and abdomen, and slightly tilt your pelvis forward. Hold yourself this way as often as you can while sitting, driving, and walking. Within about a month this posture should become automatic, says Dean.

Also become more aware of how your body feels throughout the day, says Darcia Dexter, a Feldenkrais practitioner in Los Angeles. For instance, if your back and neck feel tired, notice where you place your feet. Are they wrapped around the legs of your chair? For most people, placing their feet flat on the floor prevents neck and back fatigue. But try different positions until you find what feels best.

ENERGY SAPPER #3 You're Not Stimulated Enough
IF YOUR MIND STAGNATES, YOUR energy will too. “We need a certain amount of stimulation in our lives,” says Alice Domar, Ph.D., director of the Mind/Body Center for Women's Health at Boston IVF in Waltham, Mass. Additionally, if you lack physical stimulation your mood and energy will sink, says Dean. Being sedentary weakens your muscles and reduces blood flow to your brain and muscles, draining you physically and mentally.

THE SOLUTION: Add healthy stimulation to your life. For example, ask your supervisor for more responsibility, which may help you become more excited about your job. Socialize after hours with co-workers or friends; lively conversations will animate you. Start a hobby, like knitting or writing. Although sedentary, these activities will mentally stimulate you. Exercise increases circulation to your brain and your muscles, helping you to think more clearly and feel energized all over. Experts recommend 20 to 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (like walking or riding a bike) on most days, but you'll receive energy benefits if you move for even 5 to 10 minutes, Domar says. From there, you can slowly increase your workout as you're able.

ENERGY SAPPER #4 Your Light Isn't Right
A LACK OF SUNLIGHT CAN SNUFF YOUR SPARK. FLUORESCENT AND INCANdescent lights are much less intense than sunlight and don't have the same energizing effect. “When sunlight enters your eyes, it causes your brain to release serotonin, which boosts energy and mood,” says Marie-Annette Brown, R.N., Ph.D., a family nurse practitioner in Seattle and author of When Tour Body Gets the Blues (Berkeley, 2003). Conversely, exposure to lights an hour or so before bedtime and during sleep can add to fatigue by offsetting your circadian rhythms.

THE SOLUTION: Spend 20 minutes outside every day. Even if it's cloudy, the light will instantly boost your energy. If possible, also increase your exposure to sunlight indoors. Open your blinds and curtains as often as you can. At work, eat lunch in a sunny space.

An hour or two before you go to bed, dim the lights in your house. If your bathroom is bright, consider installing a rheostat (dimmer switch) or washing up by the light of a night light. If you read in bed, use a 25-watt bulb in your reading light. Sleep in complete darkness: Close your drapes and avoid using a night light in your bedroom. These kinds of adjustments can invigorate you in as few as three days, Brown says.

ENERGY SAPPER #5 You Overdo Favorite Foods
IF YOU EAT COMMON FOOD ALLERGENS — corn, dairy products, eggs, nuts, soy, and wheat — every day for years, you may develop food sensitivities to them, resulting in fatigue, Dean says. The problem may start if you don't completely break down your food. (Perhaps you don't chew thoroughly or have too little stomach acid.) Your body mistakes undigested food particles for foreign invaders and releases antibodies to fight them. As fragments from the same food build up in your bloodstream, your body may react more fiercely, causing fatigue as well as other symptoms like gas, bloating, achy joints, and rashes.

THE SOLUTION: Follow an elimination diet. It can help you feel more energetic in three to seven days, says Chris Meletis, N.D., dean of naturopathic medicine at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Ore. For two weeks, completely avoid corn, dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, and wheat and the foods that contain them, Meletis says. After two weeks, add one of these foods back into your diet; add one more for each of the next five weeks. Pay attention to your energy levels by keeping a diary; if fatigue or other symptoms return, you have identified an offending food and you should avoid it for three to six months. You can then gradually reintroduce the food, eating it once or twice a week, but watch for symptoms.

ENERGY SAPPER #6 You Worry Too Much
WORRYING RELEASES STRESS HORMONES that initially rev you up but then drain you. Worrying can also prevent you from getting the sleep you need to recharge. “People who are highly anxious tend to feel tired a lot of the time,” Domar says.

THE SOLUTION: The moment you start to worry, do the following breathing exercise. It works in about a minute, and you can do it anywhere — in traffic, in a meeting, or in bed in the middle of the night, Domar says. Close your eyes (if possible), and slowly count backward from 10 to 0, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth once for each number. Focusing on your breathing distracts you from worries and lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, reducing stress.

To prevent excessive worrying, identify the situations that bother you, like traffic, and do your breathing exercise ahead of time. Also do relaxation exercises, like mediation or yoga, daily. In a week or two, they will help you reduce anxiety and insomnia, Domar says.

ENERGY SAPPER #7 You're Not Breathing Deeply
IF YOU'RE LIKE MOST PEOPLE, YOU TAKE shallow breaths all day long. But you need to breathe deeply in order to bring energizing oxygen to your cells. Shallow breathing often results from tensing your upper body, whether from stress or in an effort to appear slimmer. But tense chest muscles and a sucked-in belly prevent your diaphragm from descending and your lungs from expanding (making a deep breath difficult), Dean says.

THE SOLUTION: This exercise will instantly revive you by helping you breathe more deeply. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Don't contract your abdomen. Extend your arms at shoulder height on both sides. Gently swing your arms from side to side several times, twisting your torso with your arms. Bring your arms back to your sides, lift the top of your head, and slightly tilt your pelvis forward. In this posture, you'll be able to take air deeply into your lungs, Dean explains. Breathe in through your nose to a quick count of s and out through your nose to a quick count of 10. Repeat five times. (Suck in your belly and try taking another deep breath. You'll notice that it's much more difficult.) Do this twisting and breathing exercise several times a day, especially when you're stressed.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS: Some energy sappers aren't hidden, but they can still make you feel pooped. To remedy them, turn to page 125.

Do Any of These Habits Look Familiar?
You sleep in on weekends.
You have poor posture.
You're bored.
You're inside all day or you leave the lights on at night.
You overdo favorite foods.
You worry too much.
You don't take deep breaths.
If so, read on to stop these sappers and reclaim your energy.

The Usual Suspects Here's how to remedy these well-known energy sappers.

Sleep Deprivation. Most people need about 8 ½ hours a night, say researchers. Getting two or more hours less several nights in a row tires you and impairs decision making and memory.
Overeating. A full stomach diverts blood from your muscles, fatiguing you. Eating small meals every three to four hours helps steady your energy by stabilizing your blood sugar, and it curbs overeating.
Caffeine Excess. Consuming more than 300 mg of caffeine daily (or about 15 ounces of coffee) can exhaust your adrenal glands, which will make you feel logy. Caffeine can also repress REM sleep (a deep, restorative stage of sleep), so avoid it four to six hours before bed.
You Overdo Alcohol. Metabolizing alcohol lowers your levels of energizing B vitamins. Alcohol also represses REM sleep. Experts recommend consuming no more than one drink daily for women and two drinks for men, and avoiding alcohol three to five hours before bed.
PHOTO (COLOR): Get a Rush When sunlight enters your eyes, it spurs your brain to release energizing chemicals.

PHOTO (COLOR): Weary Weekends Snoozing till noon on Saturdays drains you. But experts encourage napping to increase your energy.

PHOTO (COLOR): Sit Smarter Slouching may seem comfy, but it tires you. To revive, sit straight with your feet flat on the floor.

PHOTO (COLOR): Exercise and Socialize Moving your body and engaging your mind will energize you all over.

PHOTO (COLOR): Good Foods Are Not Always Best Too much soy or other food allergens can cause fatigue and other symptoms.


By Kathryn Perrotti Leavitt, a freelance writer in Boulder, Colo., believes there's no such thing as having too much energy.

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